Doubts over the integrity of US politics linger as midterm contests approach

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Election workers process mail-in ballots at the Orange County Register of Electors in Santa Ana, Calif., on Oct. 27.Mario Tama/Getty Images

The US midterm contests will determine Congressional control. It is of vital importance. The apparent Republican push could change the tone and timbre of Capitol Hill over the next two years. It is profoundly consistent.

But the most significant indicator of the character of contemporary American democracy this fall is not at the ballot box. It was before the courts that, a week before election daymore than 100 legal challenges – the most at this stage of a political battle – have already been filed.

Against this backdrop, perhaps the most comprehensive assessment of the health of American politics, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, contains disturbing news – and some glimmers of hope. The landmark study, to be released on Monday, shows that the gap between Democrats and Republicans over election integrity has narrowed, but significant doubts about the integrity of America’s political contests stubbornly persist.

Even a decade ago, hardly anyone would pay attention to such a study, let alone summon top academics from across the country — as did Bright Line Watch, a nonpartisan group of academics that monitors threats to democracy in the United States – to drive one. For most of American history, and especially in modern times, doubts about the integrity of elections were minimal and mostly confined to fringe elements and conspiracy theorists who had little visibility and even less credibility. .

Professional politicians, commentators and voters there acknowledged that there were still irregularities in the elections. However, they were confident that, aside from a few egregious instances – the 1948 Senate primary in Texas where Lyndon Johnson won by 87 votes due to the mysterious late appearance of 202 votes in a remote constituency in the county is possibly the most egregious case – elections were generally fair and abuses generally inconsequential.

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But with the 2020 presidential election, when former President Donald Trump claimed against all confirmable evidence and in defiance of dozens of court rulings that he had defeated Joe Biden, election denial became an important part of civic life. American. This is all the more significant given the evidence that at least a third, and in some polls more than a majority, of Republican candidates in next week’s races are election deniers to some degree.

However, the large number of pre-election lawsuits in this election cycle come from both sides. Where Republicans see voter fraud, Democrats see voter suppression — and each side argues its belief that such criticism motivates grassroots voters. The result: The fraud and suppression charges are, according to Benjamin Ginsberg, who has represented GOP candidates in political disputes, including Republican legal efforts during the recount in Florida during the deadlocked 2000 election, ” integrated” into the strategies of both parties.

“There is so much money invested in this legal battle that it has become an industry,” he said. “Many cases are not successful, but their overall effect is to raise questions in the minds of voters about the reliability and fairness of the electoral system. This is not helpful. “

Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth College political scientist involved in the study, said: “Democracy depends on political parties respecting election results and legitimizing the other side in power when it loses.

“When this understanding is challenged, the stability of the political system is threatened. We have seen this dynamic play out around the world but not in the United States since we became a modern democracy. The prevalence of election denial in the GOP is a dangerous and destabilizing trend.

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Even so, four in five Republicans agree that it’s important for candidates who lose fair elections to publicly acknowledge defeat. But the key element in this calculation is whether individual elections, starting from the presidency, are indeed fair; Democrats (91% of whom believe their votes will be counted fairly) are much more likely than Republicans (68%) to believe this, according to the study.

The implications of this study, and next week’s election, spill over beyond the United States border.

“The world is always watching US elections,” said Regina Bateson, a political scientist at the University of Ottawa. “The United States has been at the forefront of promoting democracy, and so when American democracy falters, democracy around the world suffers. Election denial has global consequences.

Indeed, conspiracy theories are circulating in Brazil about allegedly compromised voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, even though neither software was used there in Sunday’s election. These reports are echoed by social media in the United States, reinforcing the idea, promoted by Mr. Trump and others, that the US election was rigged.

Bright Line Watch included a survey of 682 political scientists who the study found rated 2020 election denial among Republican candidates for statewide office “the most anomalous and most anomalous event.” of the past year,” with 91% seeing a Trump 2024 candidacy as a threat to democracy, including 35% who see it as an extraordinary threat.

Political scientists are consistently more confident in American democracy than the public. But that may not matter, because this is a time when elites and expertise are at least as suspicious as the political figures themselves.

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